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Sun, 07.23.1899

Ruth Ellis, Lesbian Printer and Activist born

Ruth Ellis

*Ruth Ellis was born on this date in 1899. She was a Black lesbian printer, photographer, and LGBT rights activist.

Ruth Charlotte Ellis was born in Springfield, Illinois, the youngest of four children and the only daughter. Her parents were from Tennessee. Ellis' mother, Carrie Farro Ellis, died when she was a teen, while her father, Charles Ellis Sr., was the first Black mail carrier in Illinois. She became open about being lesbian around 1915 and graduated from Springfield High School in 1919. In the 1920s, she met the only woman she ever lived with, Ceciline "Babe" Franklin. They moved together to Detroit, Michigan.

Ellis worked for a printing company but moved to Detroit in 1937 to babysit a young boy in Highland Park. Encouraged by the promise of better wages, she put her knowledge of the printing press to work and secured a position with Waterfield and Heath, where she worked until opening her press out of the West Side home she shared with Franklin. Her business, the Ellis & Franklin Printing Co., was the first woman-owned printing shop in Michigan. One of her good friends and patrons was gay artist LeRoy Foster.

Ellis and Franklin's house was the "gay spot." It was a central location for gay and lesbian parties and served as a refuge for Black gays and lesbians. She would continue to support those who needed books, food, or assistance with college tuition. Throughout her life, Ellis was an advocate for the rights of gays, lesbians, and Blacks. Soon after her 70th birthday, due to her fame within the community. Although Ellis and Franklin eventually separated, they were together for over 30 years. Franklin died in 1973 from a heart attack on her way to work.

On her 100th birthday, she led and was sung Happy Birthday to You by the San Francisco's Dyke March of 1999. Ellis was hospitalized for two weeks with heart problems but wanted to spend her last days at home. Ellis died in her sleep in the early morning hours of October 5, 2000. Her hobbies included dancing, bowling, painting, and playing piano.

Her life is celebrated in the documentary Living With Pride: Ruth C. Ellis @ 100, and her ashes were spread following Womyn's festival and into the Atlantic Ocean off Ghana. The Ruth Ellis Center honors the life and work of Ruth Ellis and is one of only four agencies in the United States dedicated to homeless LGBT youth and young adults. Among their services are a drop-in center, supportive housing programs, and an integrated Health and Wellness Center that provides medical and mental health care. Ellis was also the oldest contributor to Piece of My Heart: A Lesbian of Color Anthology. In 2013, she was inducted into the Legacy Walk, an outdoor public display celebrating LGBT history and people.

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